I open the door and see him dead center in a sea of toddlers, tears streaming down his tiny, flushed face. “Mommy!” he sobs. “Oh poor buddy,” I say, rushing forward, folding him in my arms.
His teacher tried to reach me earlier, but I missed her calls. That Tuesday, while I sat in meetings, my son developed a fever — slight at first, but escalating to over 100. She reports she comforted him all afternoon, but he’s still in a lot of pain. My heart lurches. She, not me, held him. I feel like a horrible mama.
At home I treat his fever with fire engine red Tylenol, saving Motrin for bedtime. Even with painkiller, however, Jack is up every three hours that night, crying out in pain. I hold him; I rock him; I lie on my side next to his crib, rubbing his back, willing him to sleep while he writhes in discomfort.
Curled up on the cold hardwood floor, I feel angry. Angry because my son gets sick all the time, because my husband is away on business, because I know I’ll have to take yet another sick day tomorrow, because I’m selfish — all I want is to retreat to my warm, cozy bed. I will myself to stay.
I’m tired. I’m tired of juggling parenting and providing, feeling like I don’t do either well at all. At 32, I’m envious of 25-year-old me, who can go to bed early or stay out late — her choice; who can sleep in or get up early for a run — her choice; who doesn’t worry about interruptions — leaving work early or getting up in the middle of the night for her son. I used to be single — and free. My thoughts are interrupted by light breathing. Jack’s finally asleep.
The next morning, mercifully, Jack’s fever breaks. He still can’t go to daycare, though, so I call in sick, and we snuggle up in my bed — he watching Team Umizoomie on my laptop, me dozing in and out. I dream about my son’s first year of life, 3 a.m. nursing sessions, pumping, babywearing, washing bottles, complete and utter dependence, complete and utter exhaustion. I wake up grateful.
Eventually Jack’s hungry. “Waffle?” he asks. “Sure sweetheart,” I reply, peeling myself out from under the covers to shuffle toward the kitchen. I place an Eggo waffle in the toaster. I gaze toward my bedroom door. I know this in my heart: Motherhood is a place that looks like total surrender, with independence tugging at its corners. It’s also a place that feels like home.